The Pitch Letter

“Writers are like baseball pitchers.Both have their moments.
The intervals are the tough things.”
—Robert Frost

Most editors, reporters, and interviewers will insist you send a letter explaining your idea or the subject you are requesting they cover for a feature. This letter, the pitch letter, must be designed to gain media interest in your idea. Since the first objective is to get the editor’s attention, it’s obviously a sales letter.

A good pitch letter must not only suggest a newsworthy idea, it should also offer the reader background information, the opportunity to set up an interview, and, when appropriate, a product sample. Include all the ingredients that will make it easy for the reader to cover your story.

Think about CONTENT

  • Be sure you understand the subject or product so you can explain newsworthy aspects well.
  • Know the target media and appeal to their particular interests.
  • Make sure you target the right editor.
  • Call the person–editor, reporter or interviewer–and, if appropriate, make a verbal pitch, stating you will follow-up with a letter.
  • It may be necessary to offer an "exclusive" on the story. If there are competitive newspapers, for example, try to get one to do a feature by using this approach.
  • Check the spelling of the person’s name, title, and address.
  • Personalize your letter to your reader, even offering a personal note or “slant” for his or her readership.
  • Use an intriguing first sentence to hook the reader immediately. This “hook” can be a news angle or something the reader needs or wants.
  • Use a professional but friendly tone.
  • Keep it short, pithy, and full of information.
  • When you wrap it up, take the initiative to make the next contact.
  • Follow up exactly as you promised to increase your credibility.

Eliminate Wrong Messages

  • Do not use a first name in the salutation unless the reader is a personal friend.
  • Gimmicks are high-risk. Don’t use them unless you’ve tested them on a substantial market sample and know they fit the reader well.
  • Avoid overused adjectives like unique, fantastic, greatest, incredible, best.

Consider Special Situations

  • If you are pitching a product, single out the most newsworthy and interesting aspect of the product and make that the first sentence.
  • If you are pitching the results of a survey or a personality for an interview, use a provocative opening, maybe a question: “Over 97% of husbands are unfaithful,” “Nine accidents will happen today within 25 feet of your desk,” “The job market for sports editors is drying up,” or “Did you know that 93% of today’s editors will…?”
  • Backup your first sentence with facts, an explanation and/or an expansion on the lead.
  • Put the meat in the middle of your pitch, but keep it short and snappy.
  • Use bullets and indentations to make important points.
  • Keep your purpose in mind: to get the reader to agree to do an interview, take a tour or do whatever it takes in order to write a piece.
  • Edit, edit, edit. Remember, your letter must be short, no longer than a page. After you write, go back and eliminate any redundancies and nonessential information.
  • Even if you will follow up with a telephone call, give information on who, when, and how to contact.
  • Call newspaper editors and reporters of a morning newspaper between 10:00 a.m. and noon since their deadlines are in the afternoon. Radio and television editors and producers have varying deadlines. Always ask “is this a good time to talk,” and don’t call just before airtime.

Select a FORMAT

  • Use 8 1/2" X 11" letterhead.
  • Use a standard business letter format. Some exceptions are required in special situations.


Model Pitch Letter

(Date)

April Meehan, Senior Editor
Progress Magazine
433 43rd Avenue
New York, New York 10039
Dear April:

    I suggest a feature story on Blanchard Banks of Detroit who, at the age of 64, has just read his first book ever to his granddaughter, Jasmine, age four. "It’s a miracle," the silver-haired man explains.
Start with an
attention-getting hook
    Blanchard began life as a farm worker in Mississippi, and migrated to Detroit as a young man in 1940. Working in a factory, he managed to get by without reading by meticulously following instructions and occasionally asking someone to "clarify" written communications.
    When Marks Industries, where Blanchard works, joined the fight for literacy, Blanchard signed-up for the after-work tutoring program offered at his local library. In June he will graduate in a special program to be attended by several U.S. Congressmen.    

Give the story background
    In the Marks Industries program, alone, fifty people have already been able to experience the joy of learning to read. It wasn’t easy for Blanchard and the others to admit their reading deficiencies; it wasn’t easy to overcome the obstacles of getting enough volunteer instructors, and a suitable meeting place; but the Marks program is making a big difference. In fact there are now plans to expand it into a fifteen-state partnership with local community organizations.    
Give the story dimensions and some of the details
    I believe your readers would be inspired by Blanchard’s story. There are great photo opportunities here. I’ll give you a call in a few days to discuss your interest.
List any story visuals
Tell the editor when you will follow up

Sincerely,

Samantha Gerkins